Tuesday, January 16, 2001

First black legislator will get memorial

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — George Washington Williams made his mark as a writer, a historian and as Ohio's first black legislator.

        A Hamilton County Republican, Mr. Williams broke Ohio's political color barrier in 1879 when he won a race for state representative. While the record of his life is kept in ency clopedias and historical biographies, it also will soon be on display in the Ohio Statehouse.

        The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board will set aside a room called the Southwest Passageway as a memorial to Mr. Williams. The decision was made at the request of Rep. Ray Miller, a Democrat from Columbus who promises to raise the money needed to remodel the room.

        “As I looked around (the Statehouse) I really didn't see anything that represented African-Americans and their contributions to the state,” Mr. Miller said Monday. “There was nothing at all.”

        Mr. Miller plans to install a bust of Mr. Williams along with information

        about his life and the contributions of other black Ohio lawmakers in the room, which will be furnished in pieces reminiscent of the time.

        Early fund raising for the $220,000 needed to transform the room into a memorial is going well. Mr. Miller said a handful of Ohio corporations have already promised to contribute. A fund-raising reception is set for Jan. 30.

        Historical accounts reveal Mr. Williams' two-year stint as a lawmaker was only one highlight in a remarkable life.

        Mr. Williams served as a Union soldier in the Civil War and with the U.S. 10th Cavalry in Indian territory. He was honorably discharged after he was shot in the lung during battle.

        Later ordained as a clergyman, he wrote a two-volume History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 and another book about black soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War.

        In Cincinnati, he worked as a newspaper columnist while studying law under Alphonso Taft, Gov. Bob Taft's great-great-grandfa ther.

        Records showed he died in 1891 at the age of 41 in England. His grave can be found in Blackpool.

        “I was fascinated by all of his contributions and all that he had done,” Mr. Miller said. “He was clearly a man on a mission.”


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